It started as A Simple Mistake…
Believing himself spurned by the woman he loves, a distraught Thomas Davenport leaves Dorset, intending to go as far as possible to cause the most dismay at home. But fate takes him to Ireland, at the height of the 1689 James Stuart invasion. He meets Tristan Browne, an Irishman born in Barbados, coming home to a land in uproar.
The Siege of Londonderry, like so much in the Seventeenth Century, pits countryman against countryman in a bitter war of attrition, starvation and resilience.
Bridget Browne, Tristan’s cousin, is caught up inside the walls of Londonderry and writes a heart-rendering yet insightful account. Published in London, it is quickly recognised as a definitive narrative of the siege from the inside.
Unknown to Thomas, his brother Matthew is also in Ireland, carrying out essential undercover reconnaissance for King William, although he wishes dearly to be back behind the pulpit in his native Dorset and with his new wife, Lady Eliza Merriman.
Thrown together by fate, the four must flee Ireland when Matthew uncovers a corrupt scheme, the work of old adversary Parchman. His master plan is to supply arms and equipment to the Protestant forces at inflated prices and use the money raised in vicious acts of vengeance to destroy Great Little and Bagber Manor back in Dorset.
Can these ancient and historic estates survive or will Parchman succeed and see his foes out on the streets, beggar bowl in hand?
A Simple Mistakecontinues the journey of the Davenport family as they unwittingly contribute to the building of the proud and indomitable nation we know today.
We woke to the mountains, the three of us lying on blankets and rugs in the back of a Mini Traveller. We loved the wooden trim and putt-putt of the little engine.
We had all fallen asleep at different times during the night, all stating to be the last to drop off. Our parents knew whose claim stood the test, for they were on driving duty, swapping places every two hours, motoring on through day and night.
Twenty-four hours from Hampshire to Invergordon.
We always went the same way. Hence, even as little children, we knew the milestones we would pass. And chief amongst them was coming up soon. I got ready to ask the question as we bent around the corners of Inverness-shire and made our way north, always north for that was where we were headed.
“Daddy, why are those fishing boats rotting on the shore of Loch Ness?”
“The fishermen were eaten by the monster.”
“No, really, why?” The tease had only worked the first time yet was repeated in father-like fashion on every occasion.
And then he would answer truthfully.
“They left for the war and did not come back.”
“Didn’t someone else want the boats?”
“Not enough came back.”
Donald MacIntosh had often been in the water but never like this. He had swum from the mainland to the Black Isle and across the width of Loch Ness. It was swimming that had introduced him to his wife-to-be; not a race gala at which he could show off his prowess but a yacht capsizing off Invergordon. Being part of the lifeboat crew, he had participated in the rescue of the family on holiday from Edinburgh.
“Is that everyone?” said the captain of the rescue boat. The father and mother looked around the huddled figures, counting them and then recounting.
“Elsie’s missing. Where’s Elsie?” They looked desperately across the darkening water, back to the yacht that bobbed upside-down.
“She was with me in the water!” Rory cried. “I thought she was by my side.”
“I see her,” Donald shouted before standing to dive from the side of the boat. It was two-hundred yards in a fierce storm but only a hundred back for the boat turned and battled its way back towards the rescue scene.
They were married three months later on September 2nd1939; the day after Hitler invaded Poland and the day before Great Britain declared war on Germany.
“I’ll join the navy,” Donald had said. “I’ve got to do something.”
The Royal Navy had a way of keeping the volunteers apart. They messed together, worked together and faced the same danger. Yet the career seamen were a notch above the volunteers. Petty Officer Johns delighted in this distinction and Able Seaman MacIntosh’s life was miserable as a result. Defaulters’ parades ate into his shore leave but at least the decks of HMS Bastion shone like silver in sunshine.
Until the torpedo hit and turned the decks to crimson.
“Abandon ship! Abandon ship!” came the cry from the bridge. Most could get to the lifeboats but a small working party was stuck at the bows where the great gun was torn to a ragged mess and blocked the way.
“Help!” came their pitiful cries, somehow surviving against the crash of the waves and the metallic grind of steel on steel as decks and hulls and machinery collided. Donald was in the last boat as it went over the side, clawing at an injured sailor to hoist him aboard. “Help!” came the cry, the voice he knew well, the voice that had tormented him for months. “Help, for the love of God, help me!”
“Can’t we rescue them, sir?”
“The boat is overloaded as it is,” cried the lieutenant, who wore a jagged cut from right eye to left chin, blood flinging in droplets as he swung to face Donald. “We have to look after the wounded as a priority.” He held up his hand to show Donald the boat, saw for the first time his three missing fingers and fainted, slumping like a corpse into the belly of the boat.
“I’ll go back for them,” Donald said with a voice from outside his body. “If the boat is overloaded, it will be better without me.”
Three other able-bodied sailors came with him, together they formed the rescue party. One was lost overboard when the ship lurched to starboard, sinking several feet into the sea. His mate held him briefly until a gust of wind settled his fate. That left three, until the radar mast, just fitted the previous month, came down on top of one sailor, killing him instantly. It seemed to Donald that the man’s life, a ball of energy, escaped from the body, rolled down the listing deck and came to a halt by the upturned gun.
That was the gun that they needed to get past to reach the bows. They made it minutes before HMS Bastion slid into the sea, seeking the depths. There was only Petty Officer Johns alive.
“Thank you!” was mouthed but the storm and the metal-on-metal drowned all other sound.
Donald looked for something to make a raft. There was a wooden hatch cover just large enough for three but it would not come away. He grabbed a piece of broken pipe and levered it off, snapping the hatch in two and splintering the remaining part. What was left would provide a platform for two only. At least Donald was a strong swimmer.
“Over it goes, time it right.” They flung the hatch over the bows as the boat dipped further. “Jump!” he cried into a sudden lull before the storm picked up again. Donald waited a split second to ensure the other two jumped into the water. They said afterwards that the split second made all the difference. The bow rose again, the never-ending rhythm of the sea, snapping both Donald’s legs in two as he jumped after his comrades.
It was cold in the water as the sea soaked into his broken legs and wiped out the pain. Donald struck out with his arms but his body would not respond. Petty Officer Johns on his raft had just picked up the other of the rescue party. He struggled to paddle the raft with his arms, just as Donald struggled to reach the raft. Their eyes met as Donald’s head followed his broken body down.
“I misjudged you, man,” Johns’ eyes seemed to say but he never knew if the message got across the stretch of sea between them for they were misted in tears.
Chief Petty Officer Johns survived the war, was decorated twice for bravery and was known for his strong leadership and for bringing together the volunteers with the regulars. He did not marry until long after the war and was in his fifties when his first and only child was born.
“We will call him Donald MacIntosh Johns, if it pleases you, wife dear,” he said before the Christening. “In memory of…” She looked across and saw his eyes misted over.
“Of course, my dear,” she replied. There was no storm between them, that day or this, for young Donald was with them and no widening gap of sea between.
Elsie came to see Donald’s boat the day she got news of his death. She leaned against its beached side and wept for her loss. Already it looked like it needed some care but she knew nothing about boats. She left the Highlands at the end of the week and went back to Edinburgh, to her family. From there she went to London and worked as a secretary for an admiral. Long after the war, thinking she would never marry again, she met a kind-hearted man who had retired from the navy with two medals to his name. She became Elsie Johns at a small wedding ceremony in Hastings where they lived by the sea. They had one son, the delightful boy called Donald, who loved, above all else, to swim and fish.
My father proudly announced that we had made the journey in a record twenty-three hours and twenty minutes. I had not noticed the last hour from the rotting fishing boats on the shore of Loch Ness.
Searching for the ideal Christmas gift for someone with a thirst for Historical Fiction, adventure and intrigue? Looking for that something extra in a gift?
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The first three novels in the Dorset Chronicles series follow the Davenport family through the turbulent late 17thCentury in thrilling tales of anguish, adventure and suspense set amidst the forging of modern England.
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Christmas Deal – Limited Offer (while stocks last)
Buy your choice of 1 – £10
Buy your choice of 2 books – £19
Buy your choice of 3 books- £27
- Free Postage and Packing to any UK destination
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A few months ago, Agnes and Vera in Sturminster Newton agreed to take copies of my Dorset Chronicles series. They leaped ahead of more regular bookshops in sales volume and I am delighted now that they have asked me to do a book signing on November 1st between 5pm and 7pm.
This is no simple book signing, however, It is set amidst a general display of the marvellous gifts that Agnes and Vera have on sale and they invite you to visit them at a special opening for the evening of Friday November 1st.
It gets even better than that, however. For they are taking over the coffee shop next door – Joshua’s – for the occasion and I will be doing my book signing in the gentle yet fun environment that Joshua’s offers.
What could be better for a Friday evening than late night shopping, coffee and the chance to look over the latest books in the Dorset Chronicles series – the drama and history surrounding the forging of our modern nation. These books are set in and around our ancient and beautiful town of Sturminster Newton.
I really hope you will make it and join me there for a fun evening with beautiful gifts (including my books!) and excellent coffee!
For more information see https://www.agnesandvera.com
See you there!!
1st Book in Chris Oswald’s series, ‘The Dorset Chronicles’
“is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”
“You don’t deny you wielded the axe, severing his head from his body?”
“Was the victim known to you?”
“I am the victim.”
“Was the other party known to you?”
“Not until the night of the incident.”
“Yet you share the same surname.”
“It is a common enough name.”
“I understand you are a stranger in these parts?”
“My parents moved away. I returned the day of the incident.”
“I inherited the house, I wanted to see it before selling it.”
“You found the victim there and sought to enjoy yourself at his expense.”
“Yet he lies now in the morgue with no head. No further questions.”
My court-appointed counsel rose, the other end of a seesaw as the prosecutor sat down. He smiled a weak smile; the smile of someone who will not push himself.
“You say you are the victim? Please explain to the jury.” He looked at the twelve as if a beggar seeking coin. This is the tale I told.
My parents left because their house was haunted. They would not speak of it. The house was empty for fifty years. The man was waiting for me, coming to the door just after I arrived. He was my great-great-grandfather, he explained, and he had roamed the garden for a hundred years, unable to enter the house. Long ago, when he was young, newly married and the happiest person on earth, he came home early one day and found his bride, my great-great grandmother, in bed with his best friend. They fought and the friend was killed when my great-great grandfather struck him with an axe. He was hung for this crime. But he told me he could not rest these hundred years. His wife had cursed him as her lover was beheaded.
“You will never rest until your head is likewise severed,” she had cried.
I asked my great-great-grandfather into the house but he could not enter. Instead, he pleaded for release from the curse, begging me to strike off his head. I spent hours remonstrating while he pleaded. He passed me the axe. Finally, I raised it and struck his head clean off. I remember his smile of relief as the head toppled to the ground.
“Can you explain why, if he passed you the axe, the only fingerprints on it were yours?” It was a good point. But I had the answer.
“Ghosts do not leave fingerprints. They are not of this world.”
“Foreman of the jury please stand.” The judge looked tired, like he wanted a pot of tea and a bun. “Have you reached a unanimous verdict?”
“Have you reached a majority verdict?”
“Yes but only by seven votes to five.”
“How do you find the defendant?”
The judge placed a black cap on his white powdered wig, turned to me and pronounced sentence.